By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer
When SFU undergraduates Jennifer Yi, Keith Chan, Grace Kim, Renmart Buhay, and Matt Li entered Map the Systems, they had no idea that they would go on to place second in SFU’s finals. The global competition asks students to explore a social or environmental challenge by looking closely at the factors that feed into it. The team decided on a local issue, choosing to research Metro Vancouver post-secondary students, aged 18-30, struggling with loneliness. Their report describes “the problems, solutions, gaps, and opportunities to address student loneliness in Metro Vancouver.”
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Yi and Chan to discuss their report and ask them some questions.
In their report, the team suggests that the major reasons for loneliness in post-secondary students are financial, academic, and societal pressures as well the overall geography of Vancouver.
“I noticed that [in] Vancouver, compared to other cities I’ve been in and my friends have been in, there was kind of a perception of loneliness or just [having difficulty connecting],” Yi says, recalling her own personal experience of moving to Vancouver. Factors such as extensive transit times can deter people from going out to socialize. This is pertinent when many popular events are also centralized in central Vancouver, which may be too far a trip for many people.
Despite being aware of their feelings of loneliness and perhaps even desiring to change their situation, many students find it difficult to confront or address these feelings. A particularly moving comment from an anonymous student on the team’s visual report reads, “I don’t think people know where to go when they’re sad or lonely. Or who to reach out to.”
This hits home for many SFU students who lament the “commuter campus” status of their university. As an involved student at SFU, Chan notes that SFU’s Burnaby campus in particular has a general culture of students wanting to go home early after class. “No one wants to stay,” he says honestly.
Yi suggests that SFU has three major factors that contribute to students’ loneliness and difficulty engaging in the school community: a lack of awareness of opportunities to meet people, financial and academic pressures, and the ongoing construction on the campus.
When asked about the biggest difference in campus culture at the Burnaby campus compared to the Surrey campus, Chan responds, “The biggest difference is the physical space of Surrey, they hold events [ . . . ] and everyone has to pass by those events on their way to class.”
In contrast to the open and central location of the Mezzanine, Chan explained that the Burnaby campus has two bus loops, which means that some students might never see events happening on different sides of the campus. Some business students might arrive at SFU and only stay in West Mall Centre (WMC) for their classes and not go to the Academic Quadrangle (AQ). Likewise, some students might only stay in AQ and won’t go to WMC. Especially in Burnaby, Yi says that a central space is needed where students can physically see what’s happening on campus.
In addition, finding events online at SFU can be overwhelming for students. “Each club has its own Facebook page, its own Facebook events, but if I was out on a Friday night looking for something to do, [I] wouldn’t know where to start,” Chan states, “SFU does have an official events page, but when I looked at it, a lot of the events were not for the [average] student. They would be [niche events] an average student wouldn’t go [to, like one for the] PhD Thesis Defence for the Department of Mathematics.”
Yi adds that universities could look into creating positions for students, dedicated to social experiences would help communicate events for the students more effectively. Both Yi and Chan agree that having a physical space that students could hang out in as well as having one events page to go to would promote a stronger student community and alleviate post-secondary student loneliness.
Yi and Chan acknowledge that SFU club leaders and administration are trying to address loneliness as a problem affecting the student population mentally. “SFU Health and Counselling has a lot of events that happen quite frequently (like programs and workshops),” Yi remarks, “SFU wellness [also] provides tea sessions, bunny yoga, and things students do enjoy.”
Students can also now access My SSP, an app that gives post-secondary students “access to 24/7 mental health support through web, app, phone and chat platforms.”
Yi notes that spaces like the Women’s Centre, Out on Campus (OOC), and the Centre for Accessible Learning are important physical spaces, especially for marginalized groups at SFU. In the team’s report, Ashley Brooks from OOC calls for these spaces to be protected as he believes there is “a need to support spaces for marginalized populations, [such] as queer spaces, which are currently being priced out and forced to move towards online spaces which leads to more shallow connections.”
Overall, the team give crucial attention to loneliness in Vancouver in their report. Particularly interesting was how the geography of the Burnaby campus can specifically alienate students. Finally, the report outlines possible causes for student loneliness as well as some changes administrators can make. These include providing mental health services and a central hub where students can find events, which would help strengthen the student community at SFU. Click here to read the written report, and here for the visual report.
Editor’s note: In the spirit of the report, here are some resources for students to get connected on campus.
- SFSS Clubs Directory Website : Interested in getting involved in student clubs at SFU? Even if you missed clubs day you can still find out about all the different clubs SFU has to offer on the SFSS website. You can find information on how to join, and when different events are occuring.
- SFU Events Webpage : All the information for SFU’s events in one convenient location! This site gives you all the details of what’s happening on SFU campuses and how you can get involved. (BONUS for broke students: Many of these events are free which is indicated on the website.)
- Join The Peak : YES, a fantastic way to know what’s going on at SFU is to write for the paper that reports on said happenings… and you get paid! It’s as easy as sending an email to The Peak’s promotions / social media manager (email@example.com) telling us which section you’re interested in contributing to.
- Facebook Groups: There are many, many, many groups out there to connect students and build communities.
- Volunteer! : Volunteering is a great way to learn about your school’s community, develop new opportunities and skills as well as meet many new people. Check out SFU’s myInvolvement website which is described as “your one stop shop for on-campus opportunities! Through this portal, you can register for career and leadership development programs; apply for volunteer and paid positions; sign up for campus events and workshops; and access your Co-Curricular Record.”